Ik Rhymes with Sick
Updated: Apr 29
My last posting dealt with the confusing human trait of greed and how I have trouble fathoming the ludicrous limits to which same practice it. Today the subject is a kissing-cousin of such: non-cooperation . . . or put another way, caring little or nothing for anyone other than myself and/or my clan. To be sure, this happens on a next-door-neighbor basis, but my focus here is on the international level . . . cooperation (or the lack thereof) between nations.
In the wonderful little book, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, Lewis Thomas provides a brief description of an isolated small group in the mountains of northern Uganda. Lewis’ source for information on the Ik tribe was a 1972 ethnography published by Colin Turnbull who spent two years living among the Ik. Even though there is some negative analysis of Turnbull’s methodology and conclusions, the picture painted of the Ik people is not an appealing one. It is reported that the struggle for individual survival makes deception, stealing, ridicule, abandonment of children and elderly, etc. a way of life. Turnbull’s observations convinced him that they were not a society of people cooperating with interests in the good of the community, but rather a collection of selfish individuals.
Reflecting on this forlorn tribe, Lewis concludes . . . “Nations are the most Ik-like of all. For total greed, rapacity, heartlessness, and irresponsibility there is nothing to match a nation. Nations, by law, are solitary, self-centered, withdrawn into themselves. There is no such thing as affection between nations. They bawl insults from their doorsteps, defecate into whole oceans, snatch all the food, survive ty detestation, take joy in the bad luck of others, celebrate the death of others, live for the death of others.” This reminds me of lines from the old Kingston Trio song, They’re Rioting in Africa: “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls / the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles / Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch / and I don't like anybody very much!”
Cooperation for mutual benefit is far preferable to competition that so often leads to negative consequences . . . for both nations. What I do not understand is why people everywhere (and nations are simply artificial collections of people) cannot see this and find ways to act for the benefit of all concerned.
I’ve been in a couple dozen countries around the world. Whether it’s the Phillipines, El Salvador, Sweden, Namibia, Nepal, or Vietnam, what the average person wants is simply a safe and secure life with a reasonable standard of living. (For the latter, see the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory.) Any student of world history recognizes the overwhelming destructive consequences of nationalism, particularly the fanatical brand that cares nothing for the people in countries other than one’s own. It bamboozles me why humanity in general does not affirm and base relationships on the principle of mutual benefit. Americans, Chinese, and Russians are simply people living on a planet where self-preservation is dependent on the preservation of and for all.
About 2500 years ago a nation had been conquered and most of the inhabitants carted off into exile to victorious Babylon. One of the exiled group’s leaders counseled them with these words: “Seek the welfare of the city where (you are in exile), and pray on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Would that in the world of nations we all adopted that attitude toward one another.